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Tuesday, 21 November 2017

“Back to the Future”: Medical Humanities’ Contribution to the Education and Training of Mental Health Professionals

This conference, organised by Dr Maria Turri, Professor John Hall and Dr Marius Turda from Oxford Brookes University (1 November 2017), afforded a rare opportunity for mental health professionals and academics from the humanities to share ideas and experiences.  

In his keynote address, Professor Femi Oyebode (University of Birmingham) claimed that while doctors tend to think in terms of “facts”, they should also consider the impact of disease on the sufferer and those closest to them. Experiencing the patient-doctor encounter and patient accounts of their condition in literature, art, theatre and cinema can help trainee medical professionals better understand the patient’s perspective.

We learned how art and cinema could be used therapeutically with examples from an Oxford-based art counselling project and an Italian research project into the power of cinema in triggering memory.

We also heard about the Ashmolean Museum’s student engagement programme which helps to develop the skill of “close-looking” – an essential aspect of any medical examination.

It was clear that history could also make a contribution to the mental health professions.  Professor Waltraud Ernst explained that medical research often overlooked the historical dimension of such issues as problem drinking amongst the UK’s ethnic communities, leading to inaccurate generalisations and inappropriate health and educational policies. 

Jane Freebody highlighted teaching from nineteenth-century moral therapists and early twentieth-century occupational therapists which focused on developing self-esteem and a sense of usefulness, the satisfaction of growing your own food, and the joy associated with creativity – all of which have resonance today. 

We learned from Dr Bridget Escolme (Queen Mary, University of London) that the “mad” characters in historic plays were not passive figures of fun, but laughed right back at their audience.

The panel discussion at the end of the day concluded that the humanities had much to offer in the training of mental health professionals.  A focus on human relationships, the fostering of creativity and an examination of the origin of contemporary issues, ideas and practices could all add value to a training programme.

Conference report by Jane Freebody, PhD Candidate, Oxford Brookes University

·         Professor Femi Oyebode (University of Birmingham)
·         Dr Maria Turri (Oxford Brookes University/University of Oxford)
·         Dr Jim Harris (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)
·         Professor John Hall (Oxford Brookes University)
·         Ms Teresita Valverde (Tobias School of Art and Therapy, East Grinstead)
·         Dr Daniela Treveri-Gennari (Oxford Brookes University)
·         Professor Waltraud Ernst (Oxford Brookes University)
·         Ms Jane Freebody (PhD Cand., Oxford Brookes University)

·         Dr Bridget Escolme (Queen Mary, University of London)

Photograph: Two of the Conference Organisers Maria Turri and Marius Turda


  1. Medical education is not an easy task because to be a successful doctor. You need to work hard on your basic studies. you make some good points. I just don't know if there are enough autopsies being done these days to accommodate every medical student in the country. And that is too bad. In my fourth year of Clinical Clerkship Medical University elective time, which was 12 weeks, I taught anatomy. It was a great way to refresh my memory of the subject. I appreciate your efforts and determination for medical students.

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